by Ayo Olukotun
For those who may be too young to know, ‘happy survival’ was the predominant form of cordiality and felicitous exchange among the Igbo and other inhabitants of South-East who survived the trauma and murderous incivility of the Nigerian civil war. Thank God Nigeria today is not at war; that is if you discount various manifestations of what experts refer to as low intensity warfare. But then, everyday life around the country — harsh and harrowing — reminds one of the horrors of war. As this article was being concluded, fuel queues had returned to Ibadan with the commodity selling for between N100 and N120 per litre.
This is in a country where 80 per cent of the population live on less than $1 a day. Commuting within and between cities remains a tedious task, considering the state of the roads and sundry criminals. Power generation, in spite of a recent modest mark-up, trails behind what obtains in several African countries while educational and health infrastructure remain in tatters.
Against this depressing backdrop, the revelation published in Sunday PUNCH of April 9, 2012 that Nigerians spend N160bn annually on university education in Ghana hardly came as a surprise. This is even if it qualifies and puts in context recent triumphalist claims that Nigeria’s ‘fast-growing economy’ suggests that the transformation agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan administration is on course and that the country is on the high road to achieving its goal of ranking among the 20 largest economies by 2020. The information about how much Nigerians spend on education for their children in Ghanaian universities was given by the Chairman, Committee of Pro-chancellors of Nigerian Universities, Dr. Wale Babalakin. He went on to say that Nigeria’s budget for education in 2011 was less than the amount Nigerian parents commit to educating their sons and daughters in Ghana yearly.
Talking about spending on education, Nigeria’s budget remains scandalously low in comparison with other African countries, much less the new centres of industrial prominence in Asia. For example, in the 2012 budget, Nigeria voted less than nine per cent of its total expenditure on education; a far cry from UNESCO’s stipulated target of 26 per cent. In contrast, Ghana’s educational budget in the last decade hovered between 26 and 35 per cent of its annual budgets; South Africa is roughly 26 per cent and Kenya 24 per cent. In other words, Nigerian leaders for whatever reason have consistently underfunded the educational sector even at the level of budget proclamations which, as everybody knows, does not tell the full story about actual expenditure. Is it any wonder then that Ghana’s better funded educational sector has become a haven for Nigerian students seeking a modicum of quality and order?
For countries eager to rapidly ascend the development ladder, investment in human capital formation which refers to resources committed to making the human agent healthy, productive and knowledgeable is absolutely crucial. It is surprising therefore if not outrageous that an administration that recently proclaimed a transformation in the mould of the Asian Tigers as cardinal objective continues to treat education and health as backwaters in its spending priorities. Obviously, universities run on shoestring budgets and located in an inhospitable clime with its harvest of infrastructural woes can hardly avoid a beggarly existence. The logic of Nigerians sending their children to Ghanaian universities flows from the structural deficiencies of an underfunded educational sector. There are other problems with our universities apart from funding. It is no secret, for example, that many public universities are still struggling to complete the 2011 /2012 session at a time when they ought to have commenced the 2012/ 2013 academic year. The calendar has become a casualty of the prevalent anomie. Several years ago, I wrote about absentee classes in our universities, by which I lamented that graduation classes had to be shifted forward because of protracted strikes. The 1994/1995 academic session had to be cancelled in view of pervasive strikes which wiped out the session. It is to be deeply regretted that the syndrome of truncated calendars continues to be a marked feature of our universities in the same way as our public hospitals are often deserted because of elongated strikes by health workers. Indeed, a culture of dysfunction replete with gangs of student cults; ‘sorting’ which is a code word for back-handed deals between lecturers and students trading money or sex for marks; overcrowded classrooms; dry taps; and dilapidated public toilets is evident and militates against a conducive learning environment.
Nigeria, despite the abundance of natural and human resources, is fast becoming a graveyard of abandoned projects and aborted visions. Between the Scylla Charybdis of visionless military autocrats and the incoherence of a civilian predatory class, the country has had a raw deal. In the 1990s, education and health for all by the year 2000 was the overwhelming political slogan. The year 2000 came and passed and the slogan became a mutilated, almost comical, dream. Then we had Vision 2010, which summoned the energies of the cream of technocrats and the business class. The year arrived and the country moved farther away from its eloquently advertised goal. Apparently undaunted, the political class proclaimed the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy but we are still waiting for its dividends. These programmatic wreckages were followed up by the Umaru Yar’Adua administration’s Vision 2020 and Seven-Point Agenda. Then, the Jonathan administration came up with a transformation agenda within the context of Vision 2020 but it will take the most incurable optimist to accept that the country is moving in those directions. Is this an exaggeration? Not if you consider the evidence closely. Life expectancy in Nigeria by UNDP figures is one of the lowest in Africa while the country’s maternal and infant mortality rate is one of the highest on the continent. It exceeds the situation in former war-torn countries such as Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone. When you add to this, the virtual state of siege created by insurgents, a dismal and desolate scenario emerges.
The exodus of Nigerian students to Ghanaian universities, as well as the country becoming a bazaar for universities all over the world in search of students because of our dilapidated educational sector is a metaphor for the increasing cost of governance failure symptomised by a harvest of promises and slogans which actually amount to little or nothing.
As the 2015 elections approach, we will be bombarded with yet more attractive slogans but many Nigerians in search of respite and if they have the wherewithal may be sourcing for countries even on the African continent where the disparity between official proclamations and existential conditions is not so wide. The human condition in Nigeria often appears to be a chapter taken straight out of the fable written by a famous Yoruba novelist concerning memorable vicissitudes in a forest of ghosts. Interestingly, the way forward may be to travel backwards to the 1950s where visionary statesmen such as Obafemi Awolowo postulated that because the human agent is both the target and the catalyst of transformation, his welfare and wellbeing should be the centre piece of economic and social development. Awolowo not only theorised this ideal but went ahead to inaugurate a democratic developmental regime which devoted as much as 50 percent of annual budget in the Western region to health and education.
If the hemorrhage of capital to Ghana and other countries must be stopped or even reduced, then we must initiate the kind of social re-engineering that prioritises human capital development as well as builds those institutions which can carry through that sort of visionary intervention. But is any such agenda on the political cards today?
* Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.